September entry: Short stories

  1. The Red Sweater

Jenny got on the bus feeling very self-conscious. She had worn black from head-to-toe ever since she left school five years ago. She hadn’t been able to get a job with her poor A-level results and her eating problems had started again. Jenny’s mother had run off to live in Spain with a man she worked with when Jenny was six years old and life had always been so lonely for Jenny and her dad. Now he’d got himself a girlfriend, Lucia, not much older than Jenny. She was a nurse at the clinic where Jenny had to go for her eating problems and had started coming round to their house with cakes and making hot meals for them all. Lucia had given Jenny a red sweater for her birthday last week and today she had asked her to take her little dog Trixie for a walk in the park while she was at work. Lucia was so kind and friendly that Jenny had found herself agreeing and now here she was on the bus and on her way to the park. As they were going out of the door Lucia had tied a red bow on Trixie’s head the same colour as the new sweater. They’d giggled as they looked at themselves in the hall mirror and Lucia had taken their photo. As Jenny moved along the bus she noticed that people were smiling at her. An unfamiliar sensation crept over her as she sat down and placed her handbag on her knee. She felt the warmth of Trixie’s little body and a glow seemed to settle itself in her heart. It was happiness. (270 words)

 

2) Stories from Le Bar Marché- Mme. Rose

(This story is part of a series of stories inspired by a café in France)

Every Wednesday morning at eleven o clock Mme Rose would shuffle through the tables of Le Bar Marché and sit down at Laurent’s section. He knew how she liked her café au lait and always kept her an almond croissant. He made her feel safe. Her instinct told her that she could trust him. She hadn’t always had this gift, of being able to tell if someone was trustworthy… Walking down the aisle on her father’s arm all those years ago she had really believed she was going to live happily ever after. She loved Didier so much, couldn’t bear to be apart from him and wanted to make him happy.

The first time it happened she thought that she had tripped over something and bumped her head. Then she had looked up and seen her husband’s face. Cold hard eyes within a mask of vicious fury. Something broke deep inside her then, an unbearably painful feeling of loss and hopelessness ripped through her very soul. These wounds had never healed she just had learnt to manage them. It took a long time. Instead of trying to make her husband happy all her energy went into not making him angry. One day when the attacks were particularly frequent she had tried to confide in her mother-in-law to seek some help. The beseeching desperate look she got had told her all that she needed to know. She had to break the circle. She had to protect her son, to show him that there was another way of being a man. Her weapons became humour, love and kindness. It was like rowing a boat on a lake knowing that a monster lay beneath and could strike at any time. When her son graduated and left home to live with his girlfriend she felt relief wash over her.
He was safe now. She felt immense sadness too. It wasn’t meant to be like that. For all those years she had thought it was all her fault, only her problem. Now it was talked about a lot , it was all in the open. There was even a Day each year dedicated to it, world wide. Once on a television chat show someone had said that it was always unacceptable, it was never the woman’s fault, a man must never do that. She had cried then, deep body wracking sobs , thirty years of tears in one afternoon.
She pulled out her purse and placed a generous tip on the table for Laurent.    410 words

Sep Comp Entry – Brian Lara Loves Batting

They say people worship sport stars. Except I haven’t had time for that since Robbie Fowler went out of form at Liverpool and I started studying for GCSEs. I reckon they are much more like casual acquaintances or old friends you bump into, figuratively, every now and again. For instance, when I heard that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the new QPR manager, my first thought was ‘Jimmy Floyd, where the heck have you been? Last I remember of you was eons ago in Amsterdam when the waitress at the bar cheered when you scored for Chelsea, saying you used to be her neighbour.”

Brian Lara is a master in his own right. I used to be very fond of cricket but it’s so low down my list of priorities I’ve barely watched it since my student days. Lara therefore goes right into the ‘old friends’ category. I have twice had chance meetings with him, which is rather strange as I don’t have too many celebrity encounters to boast of.

1995 or 1996 – School library

One of those long rainy lunchbreaks. I reach for the Times, the only newspaper our school library stocks. Its sports section is big and jazzy now, but back then, before the internet, when you really needed it, it was crap – hardly any football at all.

“Jesus, have you seen Brian Lara’s scored another triple century?” I ask Chris, a friend.

“Yeah he’s a bit good isn’t he,” he says.

August 2000 – West End

I’ve just seen Buddy with my parents and we walk to the tube station. The pavement is packed. I twist through the crowd and end up brushing into a short guy with beefy shoulders. I look up to see whether he is going to apologise or I should. It’s Brian Lara, who is outside the team hotel with a few of his West Indies’ team-mates.

I didn’t get all starstruck but I told a few of my schoolmates about it. It was nice at the age of 16 to feel that the world of celebrities isn’t in some distant galaxy. The following week I choose which subjects to take for A-Level and opted for German instead of Economics as my last of four choices – a decision which would end up to shape much of my time in university and my 20s.

April 2004 – Linda and Chris’s House

I’m dog and house sitting for my mum’s friend during the Easter holidays. They have Sky Sports and while two golden retrievers rest on the living room floor, I watch Brian Lara eke his way to 400 not out – the greatest ever test match innings.

May 2012 – The Thar Desert, India

We sit around a fire and Baba, our extrovert guide, tells my wife [then girlfriend] how he can’t find a decent woman to wed from his own caste. Eventually the topic changes to cricket.

“Who is the best batsman of them all?” he asks me. We discuss the merits of Tendulkar and Ponting, but agree Lara is the greatest.

November 2012 – Excel Centre

I’ve recently left the country, moved in with my girlfriend, quit my job and begun to freelance. I’ve gone to a travel conference in London looking for inspiration. It’s huge – all the countries in the world are represented – glamorous women in national dress handing out samples of local spirits, that kind of thing.

Trinidad & Tobago have Brian Lara and Dwight Yorke sitting at a table for visitors to chat to. I don’t really know what to say the latter, as I can’t quite remember when exactly he played for Man Utd. I also remember some horrible headlines about his love child.

Let’s forget him and focus on Lara.

“How on earth did you manage to score so many runs?” I ask him.

He chuckles and gives one of the best answers I’ve ever heard to any question. “I just loved batting.”

He signs a miniature bat for me.

December 2014 – The old flat, before moving

“You really want to take that little bat?” asks my wife, while sealing her seventh box of toiletries.

“Of course. Brian Lara signed it. Really? You don’t know him?”

September 2016

I’m looking for the bat to take a photo to add. Nowhere to be seen. It must be in the house somewhere. I’ve no time to search for it as we’re taking our two kids on holiday in a couple of days. I’ll see it around some time, and it’s sure to make me smile.

Sep Comp Entry – Two Sides of a Different Coin

Gordon had an impulse to leave the office to think. He headed around the corner to the main road. Without any idea where to go and not wanting to leave his depleted team unattended for too long, he just stood there. A glamorous woman paced past him on heels and drew a paper bag from the sandwich shop away to avoid hitting him, and he resisted the urge to turn around to take note of the view of the back of her blouse and trousers. A couple of women jogging together in blue T-Shirts sporting the name of the accountancy firm they worked for then went either side of him, revealing a view of a homeless man sat against a wall in his sleeping bag. As he hated lunchtime joggers – a sanctimonious bunch who thought they owned the pavements – his mood worsened even more.

The deep hum of idle engines filled the street, with the four-storey banking buildings either side offering the sound no chance to escape. A trio of cyclists streamed alongside a white van, which was stuck behind a pair of buses, each packed with faces obscured by the thick glass and smattering of free newspapers. A cyclist with a camera attached to his helmet then swore at a taxi driver who had been attempting to seize possession of a cycle lane before turning left.

There has to be someone out there who can do a job for me? Gordon thought. He wasn’t a bad boss. Okay he wasn’t too chummy or jokey and never went to the pub for drinks, but he certainly wasn’t mean or slimy either. Cold calling wasn’t always fun, he appreciated that, but the buzz of making a sale was something special. He sighed. How to find the right person though, in that lot? Where were all the young Mr and Miss Run of the Mills hiding? How to spot one when he saw one? First he would have to wade through all the copy and pasted CVs and cover letters that he had volunteered to check through.

Nigel shuffled along by the wall to grab hold of a discarded Pret a Manger bag. A good chunk of double chocolate muffin had been left inside, folded inside the wrapper – it was amazing how many people left the drier bit at the bottom of the muffin. Nigel gracefully bit into it.

Then he shovelled it away as he saw a well-worn polka-dot dress and pair of black women’s boots stride into his vision.

He grabbed his empty coffee cup and held it aloft. “Any spare change, love?” he asked. A splattering of pound coins then nearly knocked the cup out of his grasp.

Years of sitting out in the streets of London had given Nigel the ability to judge a person’s level of charity simply by the way they walked. From ideological teenagers tiptoeing in torn jeans to help him to nasty folk in big boots and all those who scurried straight past him. He’d seen it all.

An arrogant-looking businesswoman walked past with a bag of sandwiches that she tilted away from him, seemingly out of fear he was going to jump up and grab them. She also reached over her shoulder to grip her handbag. If only she had a hand free she probably would have held her nose.

Then two pairs of finely shaped sports leggings ran by without the women running in them even noticing him. That always pleased Nigel. He dreamed of one day no longer being a person who people turned to look at over their shoulders or whispered to their friends about or peered down and said “is there any way I can help you?” or shouted “get a job!” at those times when the bars were packed and he became a figure of amusement rather than a public nuisance. It was like what the celebrities felt, no doubt, except they all had castles to go back to. Just to eat a leftover piece of muffin without feeling that five pairs of eyes were watching him would be bliss.

Nigel took a mental note of the impressive behinds of the joggers. A pair of loafers at the end of some black suit trousers then stepped this way, then that way in front of Nigel. He looked up to see a middle-aged businessman looking around. He could have been lost, except he didn’t seem puzzled, more sorrowful. Not worth my while asking him for money, Nigel decided.

Setember 2016 CTWG Story

This is the first draft of the last chapter of the novella I thought might one day spring out of my very first story for the Group. I wrote it at the beginning of the month and I’m not sure I like it now as I’m thinking of wrenching the whole longer story around – been mulling the story over. But here goes…..

A Funeral

It was a grey autumn day with violent blustery rain showers, matching Marion’s mood. People said funerals were supposed to be a celebration and, yes, she wanted to celebrate Mike’s life – or, selfishly, those bits of it she’d spent with him – but she felt overwhelming sadness and loss at his departure. Out in the churchyard she listened to the mournful toll of the bells and tried not to shed a tear.

She had arrived at the Church in Leckhampton in good time but hung back, put off by the funeral directors with their cards at the door, reluctant to give her name or to appear too publicly. She lurked in the background noticing the back door through the church tower was open. Then when the undertakers arrived with the coffin and family, she darted through the tower door, apologising to a churchwarden.

“Sorry, I’m a bit late. Please excuse me, I don’t want to disrupt the funeral procession.”

The churchwarden nodded courteously and showed her to a seat at the back and procured her an Order of Service.

As the procession passed, the Vicar intoning the customary prayers, Marion held back the tears and looked at Ginnie, who she’d never seen in the flesh before, and the two boys, standing strong with their wives. And there was Dave, ever loyal but looking older, with his wife following dutifully in the procession. But most of all she gazed at the coffin and thought of Mike, now decomposing flesh and bone, but once vigorous and, at the same time, gentle and considerate. She thought of how, less than six months ago they’d been making love – passionate yet utterly tender – and now he was suddenly gone. He’d been so attentive to her needs, whether as a young student or later on as an older man.

Mike’s brother Jim gave an address praising his brother’s dedication to the medical profession and his work in retirement as an adviser to GP practices around the Midlands as well as increasing “devotion” – as Jim put it rather sarcastically, Marion thought – to art. She detected a hint of Ginnie in the voice as she had never come to understand Mike’s love of drawing and painting – although Ginnie would probably never know that quite a bit of Mike’s activities had not involved architecture or art. But that said, Mike had really become quite an accomplished water colourist, as some of her own clients would readily testify.

At the end of the service, as the family filed out behind the coffin, Marion had her first real look at Ginnie’s face in the flesh – as opposed to the odd photograph Mike had shown her – and saw her face, undoubtedly pretty once, but seemingly grown harsh she thought and her dark hair flecked with grey. It fitted with what Mike had said about her.

Outside in the churchyard, the family and congregation gathered around the grave for the committal though Marion hung back observing from a distance. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, the vicar intoning the words of commendation and handfuls of earth being thrown in by the family, Marion felt a surge of emotion at the realisation Mike was now gone for ever, and tears welled up and her shoulders shook with sheer desolation and loneliness. She stood rooted until the mourners turned away when she too turned to go but not before she happened to catch the attention of Dave who recognized her. He whispered to Ginny who hesitated for a minute as if paralysed by shock. Then Marion felt the full burning gaze of someone searching for an answer to questions perhaps lurking in the back of their mind but now suddenly thrust to the foreground. Ginnie started to move towards her, but Marion turned swiftly and fled.

It was later, back at home, the mourners departed, that Ginnie remembered the pictures the family had unearthed in the past week. There in the old family album was a yellowing picture of Mike with his friends, including Dave, at Medical School and next to Mike was Marion the nurse she knew to have been his old girlfriend; and then, from eighteen months ago, the press cutting from the Shropshire Chronicle of Mike with two of his watercolours and his upmarket client, easily recognisable as the mysterious woman in the churchyard. And as she pondered numbly, she finally began to understand.